“The problem with most learning objectives is that they tend not to relate to anything anyone will actually be able to do in this world.” Roger Schank, Lessons in Training, Learning, and eLearning.

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The learning objectives of your program will drive the design. What are the desired performance outcomes? It can be hard to keep these in sight when caught up in designing. And it can be challenging to develop objectives that support real-world performance. “Academic” objectives, such as, “The participant will list, define,
describe. . .” are easy to write, and they’re easy to teach to (lecture, bulleted slides), and they’re easy to test (matching, multiple choice). But is any learning taking place that will be of any use in the workplace? I’ve never had a boss ask me to “list” anything.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

I’m guessing that readers involved in training and instructional design have at least a passing knowledge of Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of objectives, which describes learning in terms of level of abstraction. If you envision Bloom’s ideas as a ladder moving up through levels of sophistication, the lowest level, remembering, addresses only recall and provides training that asks learners to do little more than recite a series of steps in a process or memorize some definitions of terms.

The remaining climb up the ladder would include, in order, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and, finally, creating. (This is an extremely truncated explanation, meant as a quick reminder for those with a background with Bloom; I encourage those unfamiliar with his work to Google about for more.)

More than one kind of learning

Bloom further refined his thinking to include the concept of learning domains. He identified three: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. In the training vernacular we often restate this in terms of objectives: What do you want learners to know? What do you want them to do? And how do you want them to feel? What might look like a very straightforward topic could very well include all three domains.

Consider, for instance, a program on using fire extinguishers. You want the learners to know where the extinguisher is located as well as other basic fire-safety procedures. You want them to do by using the extinguisher correctly. And you want them to feel confident that they can handle this task without panicking.

Other topics may involve only one domain: learning to use a new office copier very similar to the old one may involve only the psychomotor domain, while using a very different model might touch the cognitive as well as the psychomotor domains. Leadership training may employ a good many strategies aimed at the cognitive and affective domains, but require little in the way of psychomotor skills.

Beyond the cognitive domain

A failing of many learning programs (and live training, too, in my experience) is focusing exclusively on the cognitive domain – see Table 1. It’s where we get hours and hours of lecture in the classroom, and screen after screen of content online. Again: talking is easy. Presenting bullet points is easy. Figuring out how to reach the other domains – to provide psychomotor practice or to elicit an emotional response – is your challenge in developing effective eLearning.

Table 1. Matching Outcomes To Strategies





If you want …

Then try…

Because this will encourage…

(And here are some ideas; all can be done online)


  • List

  • Define

  • Text presentation

  • Simple test

  • Recall

  • Matching terms to definitions

  • Ordering in correct sequence

  • Simple multiple-choice quiz

  • Printable worksheet

  • List the four steps in defusing an angry customer

  • Given choices, correctly choose phrase most likely to defuse angry customer


  • Explain

  • Predict

  • Describe

  • Restate

  • Paraphrase

  • Translate

  • Deeper understanding

  • Connection between verbal description and behavior

  • Given choices, predict outcomes of different phrases in defusing angry customer

  • Given choices, rank order phrases used to defuse angry customer, from most effective to least effective


  • Solve

  • Experiment

  • Practice

  • Determine

  • Get a “feel” for it

  • Experiential learning

  • Trial and error

  • Given simple scenario, utilize four-step process in defusing angry customer

  • Given brief description of angry customer, practice using defusing phrases in a skill practice or role play


  • Connect

  • Infer

  • Taking it apart to see how it works

  • Isolate “precursors” to end results

  • Careful examination of complicated behaviors

  • Given complex scenario, break into component parts to identify underlying factors

  • Given “script” of unsuccessful customer interaction, identify phrases or words that made the situation worse



  • Debate

  • Contrast

  • Distinguish

  • Compile

  • Pull together

  • Accumulate

  • Structured case studies

  • Worked examples


  • Connect prior experience to new learning

  • Facilitate transfer


  • Given complex scenario, work to identify root of customer complaint and utilize four-step process in defusing customer’s anger



  • Judge

  • Choose course of action

  • Evaluate data

  • Less structured case studies

  • Simulations

  • Opportunity to self-correct

  • Provide practice
    Encourage reflection

  • Facilitate transfer

  • Given complex less-structured scenario, use four-step process to generate own effective response to angry customer



Some material adapted from Bozarth, J. (2008) Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.